SIDING CHOICES ABOUND FOR TODAY'S HOMES. Aesthetics are important when choosing one option over another, and when you take the environment into account, some choices just look a whole lot better than others. According to research from the Freedonia Group, fiber cement, stucco and brick siding will see rapid advances through 2014. Vinyl siding will remain the largest segment. Although long lasting, it’s a controversial material made with polyvinyl chloride (PVC), a plastic that until recently has had a poor recycling record. At least one company (CertainTeed) has now begun to recycle vinyl, and the industry is beginning to look more closely at vinyl’s life-cycle impacts. We haven’t included it here as a “green” option, but we will continue to monitor the industry’s efforts to move in that direction.
Why Pay More For Brick? Because they last almost forever. Bricks come in many colors, textures and other variations. Approximately 3" thick, brick veneer (Boral Bricks are shown) creates an armored shell for your home. The durability of brick is one of its greatest assets. Boral, for example, offers a "two lifetimes" warranty.
Brick: A Durability Leader
Made of clay and shale, brick is very durable. It is a solid barrier against weather, and the installation of brick creates a 1” air space between the brick and the interior houswrap. This provides insulation against temperature transfer and the transfer of sound, and it also prevents moisture from seeping into the home. Because of its thickness, brick provides thermal mass, making it slow to heat in the summer and slow to cool in the winter, which helps regulate a home’s temperature.
Manufacturers such as Boral Bricks are making brick manufacturing less environmentally caustic. The company recycles waste and uses air scrubbers to make sure emissions from plants are clean and particulate-free.
- Resists termites, fire, mold and rot
- Made from abundant natural materials
- Low maintenance
- Resources must be mined
- Not all brick manufacturers have taken steps to reduce emissions from their manufacturing plants
- Heavy weight
Wood: Green to the Core
Wood siding is an excellent green choice (not to mention beautiful). Although people think of wood as a valuable natural resource we shouldn’t use, it is a renewable product that can be recycled, and, if it goes into the waste stream, biodegrades quickly. If you use wood siding, look for certification by either the Sustainable Forest Initiative (SFI) or the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC).
Wood products don’t require a lot of energy to produce—when compared with brick or fiber cement siding. In fact, although wood makes up nearly half of all raw materials manufactured in the United States, its share of energy consumption is a small 4%.
In addition to new wood siding, you can buy reclaimed wood, though more people opt for pre-primed pine or weather-resistant cedar.
- Little energy used in its “production”
- Biodegrades quickly in a landfill
- Not perfectly straight, which can cause install problems
- Attracts pests like carpenter ants and termites
- Doesn’t offer insulative benefits (R-1)
- Requires maintenance,and can shrink and expand
- Can be twice as expensive as engineered wood or fiber cement
Know the Lingo
Exterior Insulation Finish System (EIFS): A building product that provides exterior walls with an insulated finished surface and waterproofing in an integrated composite material system.
Embodied Energy: The energy consumed by all of the processes associated with the production of a building, from the acquisition of natural resources to product delivery.
Engineered Wood: Cladding made from wood strands that are coated with a resin binder and compressed to create a strong board.
Fiber Cement Siding: Cladding made from a mixture of Portland cement, cellulose or wood fiber material, sand and other components.
Lap Siding: Siding that looks like individual boards, typically 8’–12’ long. Each piece of siding is lapped over the piece below it to provide a waterproof covering for the house.
Portland Cement: Found in stucco and fiber cement siding, it requires intense heat (and thus energy) to produce.
Engineered Wood: Most Improved
For people who like the look of wood, engineered wood products are a good green option. They are made from wood strands that are coated with a resin binder and compressed to create a strong board. The products look like wood. They are free of knots, resist warping and cupping, and are factory pre-primed to take paint well, which reduces field and labor time once installed.
LP SmartSide Trim & Siding, as one example, offers a special manufacturing process that helps protect against termite damage and fungal decay. The product also comes with a self-aligning edge design to make installation faster and easier. Another engineered product, KlipTech’s EcoClad is made from bamboo fibers, recycled paper and recycled wood fiber. According to its manufacturer, it is as durable as brick or stucco, and resists bacteria and fungus growth. Look for engineered wood products that are certified.
- Product is straighter than wood siding
- Superior stability keeps the building envelope crack-free
- Lower cost than wood
- Low-maintenance product; may hold stain or paint for for several years longer than wood (7–15 years)
- Won’t rot, buckle or warp
- Heavier than most sidings, and can crack
- Negligible R-value
- High embodied energy because of manufacturing process
- Moisture problems can result from installation errors
- Requires special safety training and special gear to protect against airborne silica—and specific cutting tools
Fiber Cement: Tough Stuff
Fiber cement siding is a low-maintenance product made from sand, Portland cement, clay and wood pulp fibers. It’s very strong, long-lasting, termite-proof, fire-resistant and rot-proof. The product has the look of wood siding, and comes in either a smooth or wood-look finish.
The rub against fiber cement is its high embodied energy, though manufacturers are moving toward using more recycled content in their products. At least one brand contains fly ash.
For extra R-value, fiber cement siding can be installed over foam insulation board, as on an ICF house, but caution must be taken to ensure proper installation. If you decide to go this route, follow manufacturers’ recommendations closely.
- Lighter weight than fiber cement or brick
- No special cutting tools or fasteners are required—takes nails and screws
- Factory pre-primed
- Less costly than real wood
- Moisture problems can result from installation errors